“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” - Jules Verne
Marvel’s blockbuster film, Black Panther, has no shortage of exhilarating scenes filled with awe-inspiring technology. Some of the tech is wildly advanced and will serve as inspiration for years to come. Some of it could see widespread use in the near future. One such instance is the technology behind the thrilling car chase scene in Busan, South Korea. As the film’s eponymous protagonist pursues a villain after a brawl at a Busan casino, he enlists the help of his sister, Shuri. Black Panther attaches a device to a vehicle that enables Shuri to control the car from her lab in the fictional country of Wakanda. She climbs into a VR version of the vehicle, revs the engine and the chase is underway.
The race to bring this technology into real-world application is also underway, albeit a more primitive version. With direction from HQ in Silicon Valley, a motley crew of scientists, designers, and truck drivers assemble in Tunnel Hill, GA and Alligator Alley in Florida to test it out. While autonomous driving is all the rage in the transportation industry, one company has a slightly different approach. Starsky Robotics utilizes AI in trucks to transport goods along highways, then turns the duties over to human remote pilots for the first or last mile of delivery. This often takes place in cities where driving conditions are more dynamic and difficult than on the open road. The remote pilots utilize several screens and a mock-pit to emulate the conditions of driving a big rig from afar. Drivers could remotely transport goods in Wyoming from a control office in Wisconsin with the flexibility to take their families to Wakanda Park when their shift ends. Apple looks to be taking the sci-fi inspiration a step further, to something more closely resembling the level of technology displayed in the film. Recent patents reveal VR components to autonomous vehicles that put the driver in their own adventure of a thrilling car chase or battling zombies on their commute. That definitely beats battling other drivers with horns and hollers en route to the office.
Inventors have drawn inspiration from books and movies for as long as they have existed. We can thank the aforementioned novelist Jules Verne for inspiring the helicopter and submarine, Star Trek for inspiring the mobile phone, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for inspiring the earbuds. While some dismiss sci-fi content as fantasy or mere child’s play, I contend that consuming such art is essential for the innovator or creative in the workplace. Paired with proper preparation, sci-fi and other fictional works have the capacity to help discover solutions and develop new products we may have otherwise dismissed or ignored. We are inundated with input from countless channels across digital devices and offline everyday. The key to cultivating insights from external stimuli is to develop a process for absorbing the right content and synthesizing it for good. In Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative, he puts forth a blueprint for just that.
The first step is to identify your most important problems (in business or outside of the office). This short list of three or less problems can change over time with your priorities but it is important to write them down in a visible place and refer back daily. This keeps the problems fresh in your subconscious where your brain can draw relevant connections as you consume other stimuli. In choosing stimuli that inspires and enlightens, select works that challenge your thinking, are relevant to your needs, and offer a diverse range of opinions and topics across varying media forms. The final piece of the puzzle is simple but keeps many potential innovators at bay, myself included at times. Taking notes on the content you consume converts the process from passively learning to actively doing. Doing may be devising a new ad campaign, connecting your workforce with new digital tools, or changing how your entire industry operates with AI technology. Note taking also prevents your mental gems from slipping away into the ether. I’ve lost countless breakthroughs due to such slip-ups. This caused me to learn the hard way that the faintest ink (or pixels for the digitally inclined) is better than the strongest memory.
Innovators are often regarded with a degree of lunacy, but that’s the cost of admission for game changers. So, take notes from your favorite sci fi eccentrics and get to work on that flying car we’ve all been waiting for. Detractors will call you crazy but avoiding traffic will be well worth it.